Anthony Bourdain is a chef, a food and travel writer and television personality. He has significant credibility evidenced by his winning a Peabody award and several Emmys.
Our country was recently the subject of an episode of Bourdain’s well-known television series Parts Unknown. Its broadcast has stirred controversy among a certain class of citizens.
However, a food and travel review of Trinidad and Tobago is largely irrelevant to the lives of real people battered by crime, floods and exhausting traffic jams. These people include the middle class, dismissively described as “buffers” in the episode when in fact a middle class has a value far greater than that.
These real people do not live in parts unknown. Their communities and their plight are well known, but remain unfixed. From the politicians they receive mamaguy and messages of ethnic seduction.
The messages are designed to blunt criticism and to stimulate ethnic based anger to take the place of rational demands for change from the two political sides constantly contending to get their hands into the national cash register.
In pursuit of these tactics, we had another unpleasant session in Parliament, which was pretending to debate the response to the floods in South and Central triggered by tropical storm Bret.
I have been writing about the politics of flooding since 2002 and the failure to have a coherent and effective policy to manage the environment and infrastructure in a manner suited to an annual rainy season. That failure is what made the debate a mere pretence and it soon drifted to its usual format of charge and counter charge and degenerated into who is more “racist” than whom.
The link between this latest bout of Parliamentary sleaze to Bourdain’s review is Bourdain’s final conclusion about Trinidad: “And all the dancing and music and great food in the world can never hold together, by itself, what would keep us apart. What might look like a utopian stew of ethnicities and cultures living together under swaying palms is of course a far more complicated matter. But Trinidad has done better than most and in proud and unique style.”
“Better than most” is a fairly positive conclusion but Parts Unknown was un-fooled by any glossing over of our grimmer realities. What I consider was Bourdain’s accurate conclusion and positive rating might have nose-dived if he had heard the Parliamentarians.
The prevalent nasty partisan political behaviour would justify a qualification that we may not continue “to do better than most” if political race talk ignites the fire starters contained in murder, drug and human trafficking carried out with almost complete impunity and now embedded in our uncorrected and rapidly accelerating socio economic imbalances.
To judge from what purports to be Bourdain’s field notes being circulated on social media, he remained un-fooled. “Is it the harmonious wonderland that I was repeatedly told it was? I don’t know.”
Bourdain sensed our dark side and observed some of the problems, which ordinary citizens fear and which cannot be feted away, such as the rampant murder and trafficking. Another visitor and now resident, Chris Ofili, an artist of significant repute in the art worlds of London and New York, has also observed the dark side.
Ofili said this in an interview in the UK Guardian: “But there are certainly peaks and valleys to island life. There’s a lot of poverty; there is crime. Racism and ‘shadeism’ that is unique to there. A brand of humour and nonchalance that some might see as distasteful. An ability to let go of problems that feels quite unique to Trinidad, in part because the people have always been faced with them.”
I doubt that Bourdain’s sense of our dark side would have been dulled, even if he had been taken into Carnival and the arts and into our mutually respectful celebration of religious and cultural days of high importance.
Our dark side is not an incidental to life in the Republic or merely an occasional disruption—no matter how we fool ourselves with the initiative sapping and shortsighted mantra “God is a Trini.” Day after day violent crime is irrevocably scarring lives and we are becoming defined internationally by murder, trafficking and corruption.
We also have things about which we are in denial. Now we have had these parts unmasked. Thank you Muwakil for emphasising socio-economic exclusion and it’s disastrous effects. This was juxtaposed with the Sabga-Aboud confirmation of the concentration of power.
Mr Sabga-Aboud has commendably expressed regret for his boast but his apology for boasting about having power does not alter the fact that the power is held.
Now we need to ask the political leaders if their leaderships are captives of the power, which Sabga-Aboud has confirmed, and if they are also captives of the power that others have derived from the dangerous intersection of business and politics within the grubby state enterprise system.